Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tell Me About It: Friends who didn't bother to call

Question: I am 23. About a year ago I was diagnosed with what turned out to be a non-life-threatening cancer. During surgery and radiation, I was lucky to have a wonderful significant other and the care of my family. I'm healthy now.

I (or my family) sent infrequent e-mails to friends and extended family letting them know what was going on. At one point, I announced that I was ready for visitors and phone calls. I heard from a few people, but not at all from some friends I would have expected to hear from. Since for some people I was the first to go through an illness this serious, I understand people didn't know how to react. Though my feelings were hurt, this isn't something I am choosing to hold grudges over.

Now, as I'm reemerging, friends will say things along the lines of "Sorry I wasn't in touch more, but I knew you were well taken care of," and I don't know how to respond. I'm not angry, but I don't want them to think that if another friend were to ask for visitors during an illness, it's OK to just not reply.

Answer: First, congratulations, both on your health and on not holding grudges.

Second: Welcome to the weirdness of crisis, where besties can vanish while casual pals surprise and sustain you.

Now that you're feeling better, you have an impulse to make people more crisis-friendly by educating them. I understand that. It's not your responsibility, though - at least, it's not your job to change the way anyone responds to some friend's future illness.

It is your job, as a friend, to be a friend, which includes: sharing feelings, and giving those close to you a chance to give you what you want and need.

To mere acquaintances, or those whose absence didn't rattle you, you give the hey-no-worries treatment.

With friends whose absence did rattle you, deploy the truth as a matter of friendship: "I was well cared for, yes, but I missed you and was hurt you didn't come."

The results could be awkward. Or, the ensuing conversation could bring you closer to these select few friends than before (while the heroic, once-casual pal reverts to casual). That's just the way these things go, so, speak for yourself and see where that takes you.

You have this at your back, at least: Whatever your friends serve up, you'll have already weathered much worse.


tellme@washpost.com

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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